Matthew 24:21-23

Verse 21
Great Tribulation

“For then there will be great tribulation [because of the conflict], such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever will.”

Daniel prophesied that no nation from the beginning of time would have suffered as Israel was about to suffer at the hand of the Roman army. He wrote, “And there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation (Dn 12:1; see Dn 9:26). The siege occurred during Passover/Pentecost feast, the time when the most “faithful,” or at least fanatical Jews were in Jerusalem. These Jews were trapped in the city. Thousands perished. The rest were sold into slavery. It was a time that the Jewish nation suffered more in just a few months than any nation before them in such a short time. The genocide of the time was overwhelming.

The Romans wasted no time in the conquest of Jerusalem. It is believed that the actual battle against Jerusalem lasted only three to five months. During this time hundreds of thousands of nationalistic Jews were slaughtered. No city from the beginning of time suffered such a fate as Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Verse 22
For The Sake Of The Christians

“And except those days [of the conflict] were shortened, no life would be saved. But for the elect’s sake, those days will be shortened.”

God would shorten those days of the war for the sake of Christians. If the rate of killing the Jews continued that went on during the battle, the slaughter of all Jews throughout the Roman Empire would have resulted in their annihilation as a race of people. The killing would have spilled over into the community of Christian Jews. But for the sake of the Christian Jews, God would not allow the killing to continue past the genocide of Jerusalem and Masada. Therefore, the destruction was contained within Palestine.

Titus expedited the battle against Jerusalem in order to hurry back to Rome. However, the battle continued for about five months. Josephus records that the Roman army crucified about 30,000 Jews outside the city walls. Titus did such in order to discourage the Jews within the city, and thus, expedite their surrender. But the Jews persisted until he had to destroy the city, even the temple. In the genocide, hundreds of thousands of Jews died.

Verse 23
False Proclamations

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Lo, here is Christ,’ or ‘There,’ do not believe it.”

Jesus again emphasized the concept that the Jewish believers not be led astray by the deceptions of false messiahs. In times of national trauma, He knew that the people would seek for a national savior. There would be those nationalistic deliverers who would stand up and seek to lead the Jews of the Roman Empire in an effort to reestablish the nation of Israel. Jesus tells the disciples not to follow such futile calls for the national restitution of the state of Israel. He would say the same today who call for the restoration of a Jewish state within the confines of Palestine.

When the disciples later asked in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel,” Jesus knew that they still retained nationalistic hopes. In the context of Matthew 24, therefore, He gave them divine instructions upon which they could reflect when the countdown started toward A.D. 70. They could reflect on what Jesus said in the prophecy of Matthew 24 and know that His intention was not to establish a physical kingdom reign here on earth. This was never His intention. He clearly stated to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). If His kingdom were of this world, then His disciples would have the right to take up arms against all those who persecute them (See Jn 18:36).

It will not be Jesus’ intention to establish an earthly kingdom when He comes again. If it is His intention to establish an earthly kingdom when He comes, then He would contradict what He said to Pilate. Jesus’ kingdom reign was always planned to be from heaven. Futile hopes that He will come again in order to use a military to establish an earthly kingdom is totally contrary to the gospel of His present reign as King of kings.

[Next in series: Aug. 4]

Matthew 24:15-18

Verses 15-18
The Abomination Of Desolation

“Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation [the Gentile Roman army] that was spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place—whoever reads, let him understand—then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. Nor let him who is in the field go back to get his clothes.”

The abomination of desolation would be the pagan Roman army in Judea. The Gentile army would be there to desecrate the temple. The Gentiles presence would be an abomination to the Jews. However, all this would be the will of God, who was by the proxy of Rome, bringing judgment on Israel by the power of the Roman armies. Luke recorded, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near (Lk 21:20).

Daniel had prophesied of this event in Daniel 9 & 11. Jesus was saying, therefore, that we must understand that the A.D. 70 event was the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy (See Mk 13:14). This fulfillment was near, not over two thousand years in the future. Daniel prophesied,

“And the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it will be with a flood, and until the end of the war desolations are determined” (Dn 9:26).

Daniel continued by prophesying that forces “will defile the sanctuary fortress; then they will take away the daily sacrifices and place there the abomination of desolation (Dn 11:31; see Dn 12:7-11). “And there will be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Dn 12:1).

At the beginning of this time of destruction, the resident Jewish Christians of Judea must flee. They must take heed to Jesus’ warnings in order to understand that the nationalistic aspirations of the Jews was futile. It was in the final plan of God to openly demonstrate that He had finished with Israel when the unbelieving Jews crucified His Son on the cross.

The urgency by which Judea Christians must flee is here revealed. In the ancient cities one could actually go from house to house on the roof tops of the houses. The houses were joined together so that one could simply go from one roof to another. In order to accentuate the urgency of fleeing, Jesus said that they must not take the time to return to their houses for coveted possessions when they see the chance to escape. They must flee with what they have in hand.

Jesus also warned that no one was to go to Judea during these days (Lk 21:21). This warning was possibly to those who might travel to Judea and Jerusalem to visit friends and family, and then be caught in the war that was to rage throughout Judea. Jesus’ warning, therefore, was to save lives, the lives of those Jewish Christians who might still be tempted to travel to Jerusalem to visit family and friends during the annual Passover/Pentecost feast.

After Vespasian returned to Rome to be Caesar, the Roman army was placed under the control of Titus, his son. For some reason during the final stages of the assault on Jerusalem, Titus removed his encircling army from the city for a brief period of time. This gave all resident Christians of Jerusalem time to flee. This was possibly the time when Jesus said that they must not come down from their roof tops, but flee immediately. They must take this window of opportunity and flee the city. Only the radical insurrectionists Jews would stay in the city. This may have been the reason why Titus allowed an interlude in the assault against the city. We may assume that this was in the plan of God in order to deliver His people from the calamity.

In the prophecy of Matthew 24, Jesus issued every warning possible to keep the Jewish Christians out of Palestine. But then there were those Jewish Christians who lived in Judea and the city of Jerusalem who would probably be reluctant to leave their homes and flee. This would be particularly true of those Jewish Christians who had unbelieving family members who would not heed the warning of the One they believed was a self-proclaimed Messiah. For this reason, it was very difficult for some Jewish Christians to leave unbelieving family and friends. In His discourse of Matthew 24, Jesus gave some final signs in order that they might save their own lives. When they saw the Roman army outside the walls of the city, then they must conclude that it was all over. Jesus was the rightful Messiah, but the nationalistic Jews had deceived the people into believing that He was not.

Verses 19,20
Pray For An Easy Flight

“And woe to those who are with child and to those who are nursing infants in those days. But pray that your flight not be in the winter or on the Sabbath.”

It would be difficult for pregnant women to flee during a war. In fact, Paul wrote to those throughout Achaia that it would not be wise to even marry during times of distress (1 Co 7:26). He may have given this advice in view of the conflict that was either present or coming in reference to the Jews’ efforts to establish an independent state of Israel in Palestine.

Those with small nursing babies would also have difficulty in the flight from Judea. The prayers of the saints evidently were certainly a determining factor as to when this destruction would occur, for Jesus asked them to pray that such not happen in winter when the journey of flight would be more difficult. They must also pray that their flight not begin on the Sabbath, for fanatical nationalistic Jews would close the city gates on the Sabbath and hinder any from making any efforts to leave the city. Some fanatical Jews would possibly confront them in reference to violating the “Sabbath day journey” of Judaism (See Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26; 6:1-5).

The prayers of the saints would determine much concerning the deliverance of the Christians. Though we might not understand how God answered these prayers, the fact that Jesus asked them to pray for these things says that God can work in areas for which Jesus asked His disciples to pray.

[Next in series: Aug. 2]

Matthew 24:14

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world [of the Roman Empire] for a witness to all nations, and then will the end [of national Israel] come.”

The good news of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of the Son of God would be preached to Gentiles in all parts of the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

All the world” is here certainly a reference to the Roman Empire as the phrase is so used in Luke 2:1: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” This was not a registration of the inhabitants of the entire world. The idiomatic expression “all the world” referred only to those of the world who were under Roman jurisdiction. This same meaning is in Romans 1:8: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” The Roman Christians’ faith was certainly not spoken of throughout the rest of the geographical world. Reference to “the whole world” is again to the perimeters or jurisdiction of the Roman Empire.

In Romans 10:18 Paul does use the phrase “all the earth,” or “ends of the world,” to refer to the whole world. He wrote, “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” We must keep in mind that Romans 10:18 was a quotation from Psalm 19:4. In prophetic language it is stated in the past tense. Paul quoted this passage in the past tense as it was written by David. This does not mean, therefore, that at the time Paul quoted Psalm 19 in Romans 10 that it had been completely fulfilled. In Romans 15:29, 24-28 Paul desired to go to Spain and preach the gospel. The gospel had evidently not yet gone to Spain at the time he quoted Psalm 19:4 in Romans 10:18. Therefore, when he made the statement of Romans 10:18, the gospel at the time of his writing the letter of Romans had not yet gone to “all the earth” or “ends of the world.”

In the context of Matthew 24, therefore, we would understand that the meaning of the phrase “all the world” refers to the Roman Empire. The practical reason for the preaching of the gospel to the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem is obvious. During Passover and Pentecost Jews of the Roman Empire would make the long journey to Jerusalem to celebrate these two great Jewish feasts.

On the particular Passover and Pentecost of the Acts 2 events, there were Jews in Jerusalem from the eastern extent of the Roman Empire, that is, Parthia and Media. There were Jews from the southern extent of the Roman Empire in North Africa. There were Jews from all Asia and Italy. This journey to Jerusalem on Passover and Pentecost was a very precious thing in the lives of devout Jews. For this reason, the apostles stayed in Jerusalem at least ten years after the Pentecost of A.D. 30, for they were still there for the meeting of Acts 15. They stayed in order to receive and evangelize each annual group of Jews who journeyed to the city for the Passover/Pentecost Feast.

In the context of Matthew 24, therefore, Jesus was warning the disciples of the Roman Empire in order to save their lives. When the gospel was preached to the Jewish inhabitants of the Roman Empire, they gave up the Sinai law that stated that Jewish males must be in Jerusalem on Passover and Pentecost (Ex 12; 23; Nm 9). Those Jews who obeyed the gospel would be taught the prophecy of Matthew 24. They would thus stay away from Jerusalem in the years to come.

When the Romans did come to Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they came on Passover and Pentecost. Those Jewish Christians who lived outside Judea believed the message of Matthew 24, and thus, were not there. Their lives were spared because they believed Jesus and His prophecy concerning the consummation of national Israel.

We could correctly conclude, therefore, that the events that transpired in A.D. 70 were the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of such, and thus, the final proof that He was the Messiah and Son of God.

[Next in series: July 31]

Matthew 24:13

“But he who will endure to the end, the same will be saved.”

The commentary on this statement was written by an unknown writer, possibly Paul, who wrote on this subject sometime during the decade of the 60s. The theme of this commentary was based on an exhortation not to turn away from King Jesus as the Christ and Savior of the world.

The Hebrew writer argued persuasively in Hebrews in order to dissuade some Christians from turning from Jesus in order to revert to the Jews’ religion. In those days, there was a tremendous amount of nationalistic intimidation of Jewish Christians to join the resistance. Nationalistic Jews were intimidating Jewish Christians to return to the religion of their heritage in order to establish again the Jewish state in Palestine. But at the conclusion of all his arguments that turning from Jesus would produce only condemnation in the eyes of God (Hb 2:2,3), the Hebrew writer confidently affirmed,We are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hb 10:39). Therefore, the Hebrew writer exhorted, “Let us hold firm to the confession of our faith without wavering, for He is faithful who promised” (Hb 10:23).

Those who remain faithful while in the midst of either persecution or nationalistic intimidation would be delivered from the end of national Israel (See Rv 2:10). They would be spared from the genocide of thousands of deaths that took place during the months of conflict in Palestine (Mt 10:22). Jesus even promised faithful Christians, “But not a hair of your head will be lost” in the destruction if they stayed away from Palestine in those days (Lk 21:18).

However, the condition for not becoming a victim of the national calamity that was coming was to heed Jesus’ warning: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk 21:36). They could only escape if they refrained from joining the resistance. They must stay away from Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular.

We can now see why Jesus was giving these immediate disciples this information. Those who believed these pronouncements would not fall victim to the God-ordained consummation of national Israel. The faithful would save their lives if they heeded these warnings. Those Jewish Christians who were still clinging to their Jewish heritage had to make a decision. They had to decide to relinquish loyalty to Jewish nationalism by clinging to King Jesus. The entire document of Hebrews was written in order to present the gospel journey of the Son of God to those Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn from King Jesus. If they forsook the King and Priest, there was no hope for them.

We can see in the contexts of Jesus’ discourse here why Jerusalem and the temple had to go. There was too much Jewish sentimentality connected to both the city and the temple. By the year A.D. 70, God would have been patient with Israel throughout the forty years from the time of the cross in A.D. 30. By A.D. 70 it was time to cut the emotional umbilical cord with Judaism, Jerusalem, and thus the Sinai covenant. Jewish Christians had to move on. They had to move on to a faith that was neither culturally nor nationalistically linked.

There had to be a sign from God that He was finished with the Sinai covenant and national Israel. This sign had to be so convincing that the unbelieving Jews of the time would question their own faith, and thus realize that Jesus was truly the Messiah. This would be what Paul defined as the “fullness” (fulfillment) of Israel. It would be at this time when Jesus said, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 14:43). The consummation would prove that God was no longer with the nation of Israel, no matter how patriotic most Jews were to establishing again an independent nation in Palestine.

In the following words, Paul released the following revelation concerning the “fullness” about fifteen years before the events of A.D. 70:

“I say then, have they [the Jews] stumbled that they should fall [through unbelief]? Certainly not! But rather through the fall salvation has come to the Gentiles in order to provoke them [the Jews] to jealousy. Now if their transgression [through unbelief] is the riches of the [Gentile] world, and the diminishing [destruction] of them [as a nation of believers] the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness [when God finalizes His work through Israel”] (Rm 11:11,12).

The rejection of the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, spurred the early evangelists to move on to the Gentiles. When the Jews “resisted and blasphemed, he [Paul] shook his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (At 18:6; see At 13:46-48; 28:28). And so he and the other evangelists as they spread out across the world to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

[Next in series: July 29]

Matthew 24:12

“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”

When people do not submit to the laws of either God or man, human relationships digress to instincts of survival. There is no love of one’s neighbor in a state of social anarchy. For this reason, God ordained the civil law of government.

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority [of government] resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves (Rm 13:1,2).

It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit wrote these words directly to Jewish Christians who were living in the seat of the “government authorities” who would, in about fifteen years, sign the decree to squash the aspirations of the Jewish nationalists in Palestine. Romans 13:1,2, therefore, was written as a warning in order to remind the Jewish Christians in Rome to stay away from the Jewish nationalists who were about to rise up in the Roman Empire.

Resistance against God-ordained government is exactly what the nationalistic Jews did, and subsequently brought upon themselves the God-ordained consummation of national Israel. Because the nationalistic Jews continually fought against the control of Rome, Rome eventually unleashed her judgment upon the anarchists. The nationalistic Jews were anarchist in reference their submission to the state of Rome, but antichrist in reference to their submission to King Jesus.

In preparing Timothy for the dark days that were coming, Paul reminded the young evangelist, “The law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane” (1 Tm 1:9). These words were written in the decade of the 60s with the behavior of the anarchists Jews in mind.

We must not think that Rome arbitrarily unleashed her military on the Jews. There was a reason, and that reason was the insurrectionist behavior of the nationalistic zealots of Judaism. The annual Passover and Pentecost feast became the gathering point of these insurrectionists. And thus, it was during the Passover that the Roman army arrived in Palestine in order to put down and insurrectionist Jews who permeated the Empire.

Since the nationalistic Jews had been recruiting for an inevitable confrontation with the Romans, the Romans wanted to have as many of the nationalistic Jews as possible gathered in one place before they encircled them in Jerusalem. It was actually a stroke of military genius on the part of the Roman army, specifically Vespasian who was the general of the army at the time these events were initiated.

In times of social chaos it is easy to fall from loving one’s neighbor as himself. Social chaos generates hate, and hate generates disobedience of law. In times of military conflict, the struggles of the time generate a sense of self-preservation. And when self-preservation kicks in, love of one’s neighbor is gone. When men refuse to submit to the authority of government, they will not submit to the needs of one another. Love grows cold and lawlessness abounds in times of war.

[Next in series: July 27]

Matthew 24:11

“And many false prophets will arise and will deceive many.”

This statement does not assume that the false prophets would come from within the fellowship of the saints. On the contrary, Jesus said that false prophets would simply arise. In the historical context it is not difficult to assume who these false prophets would be. They would be those deceivers within Judaism who would eventually arise to call for the establishment of a Jewish state within Palestine. They would deceive the Jews, both believing and unbelieving throughout the Roman Empire to go to Palestine in order to inaugurate the state of national Israel. Nevertheless, from what Paul said in Galatians 2:1 there seem to have been such false Jewish “brethren” early in the history of the church “who sneaked in to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus.”

Their call for recruits would be false since God had determined that Israel was forever dissolved in Christ. There would never again be a nation of Israel within Palestine to which Jews should be called. The prophets who proclaim such today are false because they also make such a claim.

The subject of deception is continued by Jesus in the Matthew 24 context since this was paramount to the social chaos that was created by Jews with nationalistic motives. Jesus understood the fickle nature of people who desire to follow after iconic leaders. He knew the “sheep nature” of people to seek for a shepherd (Mk 6:34). In this case, they were seeking for a “messiah” who would lead them to throw off the bondage of Roman rule.

This urge to seek for a shepherd is so strong that innocent, if not gullible people, would follow after any self-proclaimed prophet who might show some religious inclinations and leadership. This would especially be true in reference to nationalistic Jews who believed in the deliverance of Israel from the dominance of Rome.

Jesus knew that there would be those who would take advantage of the innocence of the sheep. Therefore, He warned His disciples that false prophets would come to call the saints back into Judaism. Whenever there are times of social chaos within a nation or society, there are always those who will take advantage of the vulnerabilities of the people. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). These imposters would often practice sorcery, astonishing the people with their religious performances, and claim that they were someone great (See At 8:9-11).

In reference to the community of believers, Paul warned that from the leadership of the church “men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (At 20:30). There would be those who would go about from city to city, deceiving and being deceived. He warned, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Co 11:13).

Just in case we might assume that such roving propheteers are unique in this gospel era, Peter reminded his readers concerning what happened in Israel centuries before the coming of Christ:

“But there were also false prophets among the people [of Israel], even as there will be false teachers among you [as Christians], who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord [Jesus Christ] who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction [in the consummation of national Israel]. And many [deceived Christian Jews] will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of the truth [of the gospel] will be blasphemed (2 Pt 2:1,2; see Gl 1:6-9; 1 Tm 4:1-4; 2 Tm 3:1-9; 1 Jn 4:1; Jd 11,16).

The fact that both Jesus and the inspired writers warned of false prophets is enough to alert us to always be on guard against such. The only way to be on guard is to know well that which protects us against erroneous teachings. We must know Jesus. We must believe that He is the incarnate Son of God. John exhorted, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1). Since John wrote these words over two thousand years ago, we must assume that there are still those who are going about as false prophets of religions that they have created after their own traditions. Biblically ignorant people do not guard against false prophets. If one does not know Jesus through the medium of the word of God, then he or she does not know Him as the Son of God.

In these times today, there are many who proclaim “Jesus,” but they have little knowledge of the Bible. They are often led to be ignorant of the word of God because their teachers know little about the Bible.

There are a number of religions throughout the world today. However, we must not forget that religion is not based on the word of God as the foundation of faith. In a religion, the Bible is never the final authority in matters of faith. A religion is based on tradition and some system of self-sanctification that has become the heritage of the adherents’ faith.

We must not forget that unique religious groups are unique because of their unique traditions and beliefs that separate them from one another. The gospel usually has a difficult time penetrating religion because people treasure their religious heritage of traditions more than the authority of the word of God.

[Next in series: July 25]

Matthew 24:10

“And then many will be offended and will betray one another and will hate one another.”

Those of weak faith who were offended in being associated with the incarnate Son of God, or who were ashamed of His gospel (See Rm 1:16), would succumb to the intimidation of those who were recruiting for the establishment of an independent nation of Israel. It would be a time when Jewish Christians would be embarrassed about their loyalty to King Jesus, as opposed to giving in to the intimidation of the nationalistic Jews who sought to establish a Jewish state. Even the hate of some nationalistic Jewish Christians would be revealed in their desire to disassociate with fellow Jewish Christians. The faith of Christians would be hated because they did not join in with those Jews who sought to establish a Jewish homeland.

In reference to betrayal, we would rightly conclude that some sons who were recruited by nationalistic Jews would have betrayed their fathers and mothers in order to sneak off to Palestine in order to join the resistance. Friendships would be betrayed as the recruited would turn away from those friends who would not give in to the persuasion of the nationalistic Jewish recruiters who were deceiving young men into joining the ranks of the resistance against Rome.

Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Mt 11:6). Luke records the extent to which some would go in their betrayal of others. “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will send some of you to your death (Lk 21:16). What Jesus here prophesied is that which Paul wrote to Timothy would happen in the decade of the 60s. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tm 3:12).

When understood in the historical context of the decade that led up to the final conflict in Palestine, the prophecy of Jesus could be understood better in reference to death in the futile effort to establish a Jewish state within Palestine. If a Christian Jew were recruited by a nationalistic Jewish zealot, then it would be the same as sending one to his own death in Jerusalem. If Josephus’ figures are anywhere correct, hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to their death during the conflicts that prevailed throughout Palestine, and eventually in the final battles that brought down Jerusalem and Masada between A.D. 70 and 73.

It is true that the first disciples were persecuted unto death during the Roman state persecution that began the latter part of the first century (See Rv 2:10). However, in the following promise Jesus spoke directly to His apostles. He promised that He would through the Holy Spirit reveal to them what to say when on trial.

“Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist (Lk 21:14,15).

There is a practical principle here we must not overlook. Those who would take a stand for the truth of the gospel will be persecuted by the deceived. One might say that persecution is a part of the evangelistic package. When one preaches the gospel, Satan will not be silent, for the gospel is totally contrary to his system of religious deception. He will not stand easy as his kingdom is ravaged by the truth of the gospel. The evangelist who goes forth and finds it surprising that there are those religiously misguided people who oppose him, has much to learn about the conflict between good and evil in this world. He or she has a great deal to learn in the fact that the gospel is inherently opposed to religion. Those who would seek to sustain their religion will certainly persecute those who come with a message of freedom from the bondage of religion

But in the historical context of Jesus’ prophecies concerning the consummation of national Israel, there was more involved than individual persecution that resulted from preaching the gospel. Jews were being recruited to join the hope of establishing an independent Jewish state in Palestine. If one allowed himself to be deceived into joining this fruitless hope, then it was as a sentence to death.

[Next in series: July 23]

Matthew 24:9

“Then they will deliver you up to be afflicted and will kill you. And you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.”

Luke is more descriptive in his record. Before the finality of “these things”—the destruction of Jerusalem —he wrote,

“They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake” (Lk 21:12).

The early Christians would be persecuted in their efforts to live and preach the gospel (Mt 10:17). Because of His mention of “synagogues,” Jesus was certainly talking about the persecution of the early disciples by Jewish religious leaders. This is exactly what happened in the early missions of the disciples. There are a number of accounts in the document of Acts that detail the Jews persecution of the early disciples as they went forth to preach the gospel (See Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-40; 8:3,4; 12:1-5; 16:23; 21:33-40; 24:23-27; 28:30).

If the gospel were true, then it meant the end of Israel as a special people in a covenant relationship with God. The Jews knew enough about the teaching of Christians to realize this. If the gospel were true, then Jesus was the only Messiah that God would send (See At 4:12). An opportunity to consolidate the Jews around the hope of a coming messiah that was yet in the future was hopeless. In fact, according to Josephus, during the final days of the fall of Jerusalem different individuals withdrew into the temple and tried to give the people hope by rallying them around themselves as the messiah. But all was to no avail.

It is worthy of note that Mark recorded that this discourse was delivered privately to Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mk 13:3). James would be the first apostle to be martyred (At 12:1-5). Peter and the others would suffer extensively at the hands of the persecuting Jews in the years to come. John, James’ brother, would possibly have been the last apostle to die after being exiled by Rome to the island of Patmos (Rv 1:9).

All the disciples were hated by the persecuting Jews because what the Christians believed meant the end of Israel. They were hated because of the disciples’ preaching that Jesus was the Messiah and that there were no more messiahs to come. If Jesus were the only Messiah, then the nationalistic Jews had no future messiah around whom they could rally the people against Rome.

Unfortunately, the hate of the nationalistic Jews would not match that which would later be heaped upon Christians by the end of the first century. Rome would eventually unleash its state persecution against the disciples when the Roman state charged that Christians were also insurrections because they would not confess Caesar as lord.

When Nero was Caesar at the beginning of the 60s, he launched in Rome a personal vendetta against those who had submitted to the Lord Jesus only. But this was only the beginning of Roman persecution against Christians. The personal vendetta of Nero eventually grew into state persecution by the end of the first century. This “hate” had been spoken before by the Lord.

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:18,19; see Jn 10:17-19; At 3:4; 7:59; 12:2; 16:23; 18:12; 24:26; 28:22).

Persecution of the early Christians would become so prevalent that the early evangelists exhorted and comforted the newly established disciples with the teaching that they would suffer for their faith. Paul wrote to Timothy during these years of turmoil, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tm 3:12). Paul and Barnabas strengthened and exhorted the disciples by saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (At 14:22).

The religious world was hostile to Christianity because the gospel nullified the very foundation upon which self-sanctifying religion is based. Since the world is full of religion, then the full strength of misguided religionists will launch all sorts of persecution against those who preach the gospel of God’s grace.

Jesus explained the reason why religious people would do such to those who seek to live according to the gospel message that only in Jesus one can be reconciled to God.

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me (Jn 16:1-3).

A. The first wave of persecution:

There were two forces that led in the persecution of the early Christians in the first century. The first was Jewish persecution that was instigated by self-righteous religionists as Saul before his obedience to the gospel (At 9:1-3). This persecution eventually extended throughout many cities of the Roman Empire. As a note of explanation, Saul was a part of the religion of the Jews (See Gl 1:13,14). And as a religionist, he viewed Christianity as a sect of people who denied the foundation upon which the Jews’ religion was founded.

Religion exists because it is inherently built upon the foundation of religious traditions that identify each unique religion (See Mk 7:1-9). Religion is a system of faith whereby the adherents seek to sanctify themselves of sin through the performance of certain rites and rituals that identify each particular religion.

Gospel, on the other hand, is defined in one statement that makes the gospel totally contrary to that which identifies religion: Christians “are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). The gospel of grace, therefore, sets one free from religion (See Gl 5:1). And since gospel sets one free from religion, those who are the leaders of any particular religion set themselves against those who preach the gospel. This is especially true if the leaders of the religion are fully supported by the adherents of the religion.

Since no one can be justified before God through perfect law-keeping, then religion, which is based on strict adherence to the traditions (laws) of the religion, cannot justify one before God. In the case of the Jews, their strict adherence to the law of God could not justify them before God (See Gl 2:16). Obedience to the many rites and rituals of the Jews’ religion could not atone for one sin. No one through law-keeping could be justified before God because everyone continues to sin (Rm 3:23; 6:23).

In contrast to religion, Christians have been set free from perfect obedience to the assumed rites and rituals of any religion. The justified are set free in their obedience to the gospel of grace. Therefore, that which stirred up the persecution from religionists worldwide was the fact that what identified a religion is totally contrary to the central principle of grace that identifies Christianity. There can never be any harmony between any religion and the gospel. The two are inherently opposed to one another. Religion is essentially man trying to do what Jesus did completely at the cross.

B. The second wave of persecution:

The second wave of persecution that was eventually launched against Christians was carried out by the head of the Roman Empire. Nero initially launched his personal vendetta against Christians in the middle 60s. However, all historical evidence indicates that this persecution was localized in and around Rome, and was terminated when Nero committed suicide. It was not until the reign of Domitian the latter part of the first century that Roman state persecution was launched against Christians throughout the Empire.

In Rome’s early persecutions of Jews, the Roman state made little distinction between Jews of Judaism and Jewish Christians. Jewish Christians were only considered a sect of Judaism. And since Judaism was causing the incessant problems in Palestine, Rome launched reprisals against all Jews, regardless of whether they were Christians.

It is also significant to note from the context of Matthew 24, and the context of John 16:1-3, that persecution would come from those who were religionists, and thus, believed they were serving God by persecuting Christians. Even Rome’s persecution that began the latter part of the first century was instituted by religious leaders of Roman religion.

Persecution of Christians rarely comes from the state alone. It is usually generated by religions within the state that seek to dispel competitive religions. Sometimes, the false religions of men will use the power of the state in order to persecute the true church of God. When a religion uses the state to persecute Christians, then we know that the religion is false.

In any state that is theocratic, the civil and religious laws of the state are one. There is no separation between state and religion. In such a situation, any religion that would arise that is contrary to the established religious laws of the state is considered treason. The early disciples would eventually move into a somewhat theocratic state that Rome seemed to become.

Since Christians would not call Caesar “lord,” they were accused of insurrection, and thus enemies of the state. The book of Revelation would take the early disciples through the onslaught of state persecution. Jesus would not leave the Christians of the second and third centuries without hope of deliverance from Roman state persecution. And because He would not, He called on John to pen the visions of Revelation in order to prepare Christians that they would endure persecution for the next 150 years until Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration in A.D. 311.

[Next in series: July 21]

Matthew 24:7,8

“For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (vs 7)

Because of the many conflicts that existed throughout the Roman Empire in the decade of the 60s, Rome’s intolerance toward any who would cause civil disorder, especially those who would promote an insurrectionist movement to break away from the control of Rome, was only intensified. But within the government in Rome there was also internal conflict. In the two-year period that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem, after Nero committed suicide, Galba, Otho and Vitellius came and went in their efforts to seized power in order to become Caesar of Rome. Jewish insurrectionist movements occurred throughout the Empire. At one time about 50,000 Jews were killed in an insurrectionist movement in Seleucia. Another similar movement led to the death of about 20,000 nationalistic Jews in Caesarea who sought to initiated the establishment of an independent Israel. But all was to no avail. (For a more comprehensive discussion of the civil and political turmoil of the times, download and read the introduction to Book 84, Gospel Teacher: Times Of Turmoil, www.africainternational.org)

Famines occurred throughout the Empire prior to A.D. 70. Agabus had prophesied of one in Acts 11:28. Paul dealt with another in Judea for which the church in other areas took up a contribution (See 1 Co 16:1-3).

In conjunction with the famines, earthquakes seem to have plagued the Mediterranean area in the years prior to A.D. 70. Ancient historians record at least eight major earthquakes in the Middle East in the few years before A.D. 70. However, though an earthquake is emotionally unsettling, such natural occurrences should never be used as an indication of God supernaturally working the affairs of this world. Hundreds of thousands of earthquakes have occurred since Jesus referred to them in the discourse of Matthew 24. But since “famines and earthquakes in various places” is a common occurrence in the tectonic movement of geological plates throughout the world, such should never be considered a “sign of the times.” (Sometimes people need to turn off their TVs and radios and live with what is happening within their own regions.)

Luke recorded that Jesus also said in this context that pestilence, or disease and plagues, would prevail. Such pestilence and disease usually accompany famines. Pestilence would intensify the trauma of the wars and the harsh circumstances under which some Christians had to live. These would not be “signs of the times,” but suffering that would prevail during the years leading up to the end.

“All these are the beginning of sorrows” (vs 8)

The events that are discussed in verses 6 and 7 would be only the beginning of the sorrows. They would not be “signs of the time” of the end. The intense sorrows and suffering that would come from the battles would add to the conflicts of the time. The battles would continue until the fall of Masada in A.D. 73. It would be in that battle that over nine hundred Jews—men, women and children—would commit suicide instead of being captured by the Romans.

Unfortunately, the disciples would have to live in the turmoil of these sorrows. They could not escape their social environment. Christians must often live in hostile environments that are against the message of peace that they preach. The environments are hostile simply because Satan is the prince of this world. He has deceived the masses of humanity.

However, on the positive side of a hostile environment there is the opportunity for Christians to reveal to the unbelievers around them that they truly live the gospel that brings peace of mind. When in the hostile environment of a Roman prison at the beginning of the decade of the 60s, Paul wrote,

“Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Ph 4:6,7).

In his account of these matters, Luke also added that “great signs from heaven” would be seen (Lk 21:11). This would possibly be the unusual occurrence of terrestrial phenomena that some would interpret as “signs of the end.”

Most of the research speculation concerning terrestrial phenomena during the crucifixion of Jesus assumes that the events of the day of crucifixion took place in the year A.D. 33. However, according to our calendar today, Jesus was crucified in A.D. 30.

We must not forget that Jesus’ statements concerning the termination of national Israel were made in the latter part of His ministry, and before His death. In reference to His teaching through the parables, He spoke of the end of Israel throughout His ministry. All the terrestrial phenomena began to occur on the very day of His crucifixion. On the crucifixion day, the gospel recorders wrote, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour” (Lk 23:44; see Mt 27:45; Mk 15:33). There was also a great earthquake on that day (Mt 27:54).

We would conclude, therefore, that the natural phenomena that occurred during the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were signs that the end of national Israel was literally coming, though the end was not demonstrated until forty years later. God was patient with the Jews in order to give them every opportunity to believe on Jesus as the Messiah, and thus obey the gospel.

Since Jesus made the statements concerning the end before these events occurred, then we assume that He did not want the disciples to assume that the end of national Israel occurred at the time of His death. In the anxiety of the day, He did not want them to conclude that the end of His earthly ministry was also the end of Israel. The end of national Israel would come forty years later, but the time of the crucifixion and resurrection was the beginning of the gospel dispensation. Throughout the seven weeks between Passover (the crucifixion) and Pentecost (the announcement of His kingdom reign), Jesus focused the disciples’ minds on their mission of preaching the gospel to the world (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16).

The good news included their being set free from the Sinai covenant and law at the cross (Cl 2:14). But there was still the unbelieving Jews who needed a clear signal that God was finished with Israel. He gave the unbelieving Jews a chance to first hear and obey the gospel of the Messiah. But after forty years it was time to bring down the curtain on Judaism and national Israel.

[Next in series: July 19]

Matthew 24:6

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars [throughout the Roman Empire]. See that you are not troubled, for these things must come to pass, but the end [of national Israel] is not yet.”

When Rome started her campaign against insurrectionist Jews, she marched down through Asia Minor with skirmishes here and there in order to eradicate from the Empire the “Jewish scourge.” There were also other wars throughout the Roman Empire that revealed the political instability of the time. These wars would not be the end of national Israel. They would only indicate the beginning of the end. But such wars would be a signal to the Christians who were living in Jerusalem to leave the city because the end was imminent.

We might suppose that the Roman army started minor skirmishes with the zealot Jews in order to hasten the radical Jews’ flight to Jerusalem. As a military strategy against the insurrectionist Jews, Rome wanted as many radical Jews as possible gathered in Palestine before the Roman army made their final assault against those Jews who wanted to restore a state of Israel as it was before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. What these loyalist Jews did not realize was that the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities centuries before meant the end of an independent state of Israel in Palestine as a God-ordained possession.

Since the return of the captives from the captivities, Palestine was continually occupied by foreign powers, even to the day of Jesus. So what the radical insurrectionist Jews of the 60s were trying to do was undo what God accomplished through the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.

There are those today who are doing the same. They are encouraging the same restoration of a God-ordained independent state of Israel. They needed to read their Old Testament history in order to understand that Israel’s independence in their own homeland came to an end when God drove them from the land. If they cannot discover this fact in Old Testament history, then it is easily discovered in the gospel that all who are in Christ are one body (See Gl 3:26-29). Christians are now the holy nation of God (1 Pt 2:5,9).

The deception of the effort to restore a state of Israel, however, is that the proponents cannot separate the right of the Jews as a culture of people to have their own homeland from the fact that such a homeland would not be a God-ordained plan in reference to the gospel of the Messiahship and sacrifice of the Son of God that took place two thousand years ago. The only reference that the modern-day state of Israel has in reference to God is that which was explained in Romans 13:1,2. Government of any nation is God-ordained as such, but God no longer ordains any specific government for a nation.

The deception that would come in the latter years of nation Israel in A.D. 70 would be that the false prophets of the nationalistic Jews were deceiving people. But in reference to some believers who were false prophets, they were deceiving the people into believing that God wanted to forsake His covenant with the existing holy nation of Christians in order to restore the state of national Israel. If this indeed were the plan of God, then none of the false prophets would not have been deceivers. They would have been speaking the truth if God did intend to establish again the state of Israel. But because God was finished with Israel proclaims the fact that any prophet is false if he or she would declare that God wants to again establish the state of Israel in Palestine.

The same is true today. Those who proclaim that God is establishing the Jews in Palestine as a God-ordained nation are deceived, and thus are false prophets who are deceiving others. The wars that surround Israel today have nothing to do with any efforts on the part of God to restore the nation of Israel within their own land.

When Jesus exhorted “that you are not trouble,” He indicated that this message was to those of the first century. Christians should not be troubled by any war, but in this historical context Jesus was specifically encouraging the Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire during the middle 60s not allow Rome’s wars throughout the Empire to disturb them. The only way that Jewish Christians could do this was that they had to understand that the end of national Israel was in the eternal plan of God. God wanted to usher in His gospel covenant relationship with all men through His only begotten Son. The day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 was the beginning. It was on that day that one had to obey the gospel in order to come into Christ. And when in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gl 3:28).

The Jewish Christians of the time needed to realize that their Jewish nationality was dissolved when they obeyed the gospel in order to come into Christ. They could remain Jews culturally, but their unique covenant relationship with God was terminated in Christ.

The promise of the new covenant has been fulfilled (See Jr 31:31-33). We need to remember that before creation God had planned that all those who obeyed the gospel would come into a covenant relationship with Him in Christ (Gl 3:26,27). This was in His plan when He established a national covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai. But even at that time, He had in His eternal plan a new covenant that would be revealed by His Son.

The early Christians were not be troubled, therefore, when and how God would bring to a close the book on national Israel, though the book on the old Sinai covenant had been closed at the cross (Cl 2:14). Israel’s independent possession of the land of Palestine had been terminated with the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Israel will never again enjoy a national covenant relationship with God, and thus have a God-ordained right to possess the land of Palestine.

In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus was giving pronouncements of prophecy that would be spoken among the disciples throughout the Roman Empire. Jewish Christians were to take heed to these prophetic utterances. If they did not, then they might continue to cling to the traditional Jewish Passover and Pentecost journey to Jerusalem. Some may succumb to the nationalistic Judaism of the day and eventually be trapped in Jerusalem when the Roman armies came for the final onslaught against the insurrectionists. We must keep in mind that many Jewish Christians still had family members living in Palestine.

One reason Jesus gave these warnings, therefore, was primarily for the sake of the early Jewish Christians. They must take heed to these warnings and stay away from Jerusalem when the hour approached. In view of what the historian Josephus wrote concerning the death toll in the final months of war against the city, Jesus’ warnings in this text were given to save lives. Some Jewish sons who had been deceived into believing the radical judaizers could be spared if they gave heed to these warnings and stayed away from Palestine.

[Next in series: July 17]